Forensic Psychology – Definition, Procedures, Differences And More

The forensic psychology is the intersection between psychology and the criminal justice system, involves understanding legal principles fundamental, particularly with respect to the testimony of expert witnesses and the area of concern specific content (eg competition for trial, custody and visitation children or workplace discrimination), as well as relevant jurisdictional considerations (for example, in the United States, the definition of insanity in criminal trials differs from state to state) in order to appropriately interact with judges, attorneys and other legal professionals right.

An important aspect of forensic psychology is the ability to testify in court as an expert witness, rephrasing psychological findings in courtroom legal language , providing information to legal personnel in an understandable way.

What do forensic psychologists do, exactly?

If you like learning about the science of human behavior and the law, then forensic psychology will probably interest you quite a bit. The field has seen spectacular growth in recent years, as more and more students take an interest in this applied branch of psychology. However, forensic psychology is much more than the glamorous viewpoints portrayed in television shows, movies, and books.

Forensic psychology is generally defined as the intersection of psychology and law, but psychologists can perform many functions, so this definition can vary.

In many cases, the people who work within forensic psychology are not necessarily “forensic psychologists,” these people may be clinical psychologists, school psychologists, neurologists, or counselors who lend their psychological expertise to provide testimony, analysis, or recommendations in legal or legal cases. criminal.

For example, a clinical psychologist could provide mental health services, such as evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment to people who have come into contact with the criminal justice system. Doctors could be asked to determine if a suspected offender has a mental illness, or they could be asked to provide treatment for people suffering from substance abuse and addiction problems.

Another example is that of a school psychologist, although people in this profession often work with children in school settings, a school psychologist working in forensic psychology could evaluate children in suspected cases of abuse, help prepare children for testify in court or offer testimony in child custody disputes.

Some of the functions typically performed within forensic psychology include:

  • Competency evaluations.
  • Sentencing recommendations.
  • Evaluations of the risk of recidivism.
  • Testimony as an expert witness.
  • Child custody evaluations.

Distinction between forensic and therapeutic psychology

A forensic psychologist’s interactions and ethical responsibilities with the client differ widely from those of a psychologist dealing with a client in a clinical setting.


Rather than the broad set of issues that a psychologist addresses in a clinical setting, a forensic psychologist addresses a narrowly defined set of events or interactions that are non-clinical in nature.

Importance of the customer perspective

A physician places primary importance on understanding the client’s unique point of view, while the forensic psychologist is interested in precision, and the client’s point of view is secondary.


Typically, in a clinical setting, a psychologist is dealing with a volunteer client. A forensic psychologist evaluates clients by order of a judge or by order of an attorney.


Volunteer clients have more freedom and autonomy with regard to the objectives of the evaluation; any evaluation generally takes their concerns into account. The objectives of a forensic examination are limited by applicable statutes or elements of common law that pertain to the legal issue in question.

Threats to validity

While the client and the therapist are working toward a common goal, although unconscious distortion may occur, in the forensic context there is a substantially greater likelihood of conscious and intentional distortion.

Relationship and dynamics

Therapeutic interactions work to develop a trusting and empathetic therapeutic alliance. A forensic psychologist may not ethically nurture the client or act in a ‘helping’ role, as the forensic evaluator has divided allegiances and there are substantial limits to confidentiality that can guarantee the customer. A forensic evaluator must always be aware of manipulation in the adversary context of a legal environment, these concerns impose an emotional distance that is different from a therapeutic interaction.

Rhythm and environment

Unlike therapeutic interactions that can be guided by many factors, the forensic environment with its judicial schedules, limited resources, and other external factors, places severe time constraints on the evaluation with no opportunities for reevaluation. The forensic examiner focuses on the importance of accuracy and the purpose of legal provisions.

What is the homework procedure for a forensic psychologist?

The forensic psychologist views the client or respondent from a different point of view than a traditional clinical psychologist, since viewing the situation from the client’s point of view or “empathizing” is not the task of the forensic psychologist.

Traditional psychological tests and the interview procedure are not sufficient when applied to the forensic situation. In forensic evaluations, it is important to assess the consistency of objective information across multiple sources, evaluators must be able to provide the source on which the information is based. Treating psychologists do not routinely assess response bias or performance validity, whereas forensic psychologists generally do.

Forensic psychologists perform a wide range of tasks within the criminal justice system:

Disease process

An important and pressing question in any type of forensic evaluation is the problem of simulation and deception. In some criminal cases, the court considers that simulating or feigning a disease is an obstruction of justice and convicts the accused accordingly.

Competency assessments

If there is a question of the defendant’s jurisdiction to stand trial, the court appoints a forensic psychologist to examine and evaluate the individual. The individual may be in custody or may have been released on bail, based on forensic evaluation, a recommendation is made to the court whether or not the defendant is competent to proceed to trial.

If the accused is deemed incompetent to proceed, the report or testimony will include recommendations for the interim period during which an attempt will be made to restore the individual’s competence to understand the court and legal proceedings, as well as participate appropriately in his defense. . Often it is a matter of commitment, with the advice of a forensic psychologist, to a psychiatric treatment center until such time as the individual is deemed competent.

Sanity assessments

The forensic psychologist may also be appointed by the court to assess the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the offense. These are defendants that the judge, prosecutor or public defender believe, through personal interaction with the defendant or by reading the police report, may have been significantly undermined at the time of the offense.

Other evaluations

Forensic psychologists are frequently asked to assess an individual’s dangerousness or risk of recidivism, can provide information and recommendations necessary for the purposes of sentencing, concessions of parole and the formulation of conditions of parole, which to often involves an assessment of the offender’s ability to be rehabilitated.

They are also asked questions about the credibility and simulation of witnesses, occasionally they can provide criminal profiles to law enforcement agencies.

Ethical implications

A forensic psychologist generally practices within the confines of the courtroom, incarceration facilities, and other legal settings. It is important to remember that the forensic psychologist is just as likely to be testifying for the prosecution as it is for the defense attorney.

The ethical standards for a forensic psychologist differ from those of a clinical psychologist or other practicing psychologist because the forensic psychologist is not an advocate for the client and nothing the client says is guaranteed to be kept confidential. The client has no control over how that information is used, despite signing a confidentiality waiver, most clients do not realize the nature of the evaluative situation.

Georgia Tarrant
 | Website

Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.